Friday, July 25, 2014

Ranting On...John Walsh and the Stupidity of Plagiarism

Sen. John Walsh (D-MT)
The Montana Senate race has confused me for months now.  Most of this year's Senate races have gone according to how I expected.  Sure, Bruce Braley and Tom Cotton haven't been particularly compelling candidates, but polls have reflected that, and sure, Mark Begich and Joni Ernst have been surprisingly strong candidates, but you always expect certain people to rise to the top once they get into the energy of a campaign.  However, Montana hasn't made a lot of sense to me.  I never really expected John Walsh to win, but I was stunned that a state that hadn't elected a Republican to the Senate in fourteen years would so quickly deny a Democrat a seat they've held for over 100 years (no Republican has held this seat since the passage of the 17th Amendment, one of only three seats in the country that can make that claim).

I mean, Walsh is a war hero who fought in Iraq and led operations in Montana's 2000 wildfires.  He has a Bronze Star.  He's a statewide office holder.  And perhaps most importantly, with Max Baucus appointed Ambassador to China, he's a sitting U.S. Senator.  This might not mean much (incumbent senators don't quite have the same cache when they're appointed), but it does mean more money and more push within his caucus to get key bills passed.  Harry Reid has been quite Machiavellian recently when it comes to who gets to introduce key legislation, and in particular this is the case when you're a vulnerable incumbent up for reelection this year.  All of this added up to Walsh doing better than what he was doing as the summer wore on (the only major poll in the race was showing his GOP opponent up by 18-points).

This was starting to become evident in the race.  A recent Gravis poll had shown Daines up by only four points, and Walsh was starting to run a better campaign with more airtime and stronger legislation in the Senate.  This race, unlike that of say South Dakota, was going to close, and Daines one-term and a promotion aspect in the race wasn't going to help him (Rep. Rick Berg is a recent example of people not liking someone running for a promotion from the House to the Senate with less than one-term in the lower body, even if they like their party).  There was a distinct possibility that in a year where the Democrats are in desperate need of cutting into Republicans' momentum that Montana could at least reach the status of Kentucky or Louisiana on the map.

That's no longer the case.  John Walsh's plagiarism scandal is a fatal hit to a campaign that couldn't afford one.  There's really no way of disproving the fact that Walsh plagiarized his 2007 grad paper-the evidence speaks for itself.  And this is a hit to a man who has had some bumps in the road already.  This wasn't a youthful indiscretion-Walsh was in his mid-40's when he plagiarized the paper, and while his excuse of PTSD may be valid and could in fact be the truth, the fact that the campaign at first denied and then backpedaled left a sour taste in my mouth, much less someone who is a swayable voter.

Politicians frequently recover from plagiarism scandals.  They're hardly on-par with scandals that involve prison sentences or sex.  However, they do take a hit.  Someone like Joe Biden, for example, eventually bounced back to become the Vice President, but his 1988 plagiarism scandal derailed his campaign for president and meant he had to spend twenty more years in the Senate when he could have taken on George Bush for the White House.  Sen. Richard Blumenthal commited arguably the biggest such scandal in recent years when he misrepresented his military service in Vietnam, nearly costing the Democrats a slam-dunk seat in Connecticut (for a while there he was nearly margin-of-error tied with Linda McMahon in the polls).  These men, however, were running their campaigns on friendly territory, something Montana hardly is for a Democrat.

And so, as a result, this is the end of the road for John Walsh.  What once was a longshot bid for the Senate has now become a no-shot bid.  Walsh will continue to be a former senator for the rest of his life, and may well make a comeback in the future, but his shot of being in Congress next year went to nil because of a 14-page paper.  That's all; one paper that he arguably could have written in a handful of hours cost him a shot at a Senate seat.  And that, kids, is why you never cheat.

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